African Wildlife Foundation

7. February 2019

Allan Olingo’s recent interview of African Wildlife Foundation chief executive Kaddu Sebunya as well as the African Wildlife Foundation website appear to define the differences in wildlife management and conservation between East African and Southern African countries.

While both agree that it is the responsibility of Africans to own the conservation narrative, Kaddu Sebunya outlines conservation initiatives that appear to be in opposition to what the Southern African nations want. Sebunya stresses the importance of stopping the killing of elephants (and other wild African animals), trophy hunting, poaching and trading of ivory and other animal parts. He is convinced that the choice between conservation and economic development is a false choice. He advocates better initiatives to continue economic development as long as decisions by government and the private sector include the voice of conservationists in protecting African wild life and wild lands. This implies setting up inviolate wildlife areas with serious protection of all that lives within them.

Giraffe and African Forest Elephant in Kruger National Park, South Africa.  Photo Credit: Paco Como / shutterstock

Sebunya also seems to be convinced that well-managed ecotourism can play an important part to improve conservation outcomes and community benefits. As an example he cites the community owned Rwanda Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, having generated close to $3 million for the community since its inception. He also clearly recognizes that Africa’s natural capital is a global resource and its conservation is a global responsibility, as long as it is increasingly African owned.

Mr. Sebunya does not hesitate to address the problem of African countries opening protected animal habitats increasingly for the extraction of mineral resources below the ground, without realizing that most of the Africa’s wealth is above the ground. He states, “Africa needs to be smarter about not prioritizing what is under the soil over water towers, rivers and lakes, healthy soils and the rest for the natural ecosystem that sustain people.  Until we change our view of the economic benefits of protected areas, vis a vis the exploration of mineral resources, we will continue to fight a losing battle.”

Finally Kaddu Sebunya emphasizes the need to have more young people get involved in conservation at policy and leadership levels. For him young people should not only be leaders of tomorrow, as often expressed by politicians, but they must be leaders of today to aggressively ensure the required changes for conservation and protecting biodiversity.

Nonetheless, I am a bit troubled about AWF’s joint venture with the Beijing Zoo. It seems that such a collaboration will involve the acquisition of live African wild animals for Chinese zoos, which could perpetuate increased captivity and exploitation of wild African animals, unless Chinese zoos will take serious steps to improve what are apparently very substandard conditions in their zoos.  The new aquarium, featuring dolphin performances, do not point in that direction. On the other hand I do understand that an organization like AWF depends on global investments without necessarily having much influence on how the investors treat their own natural resources.

Two African elephants. Photo Credit: Fotogrin / shutterstock

The  African Wildlife Foundation, under Kaddu Sebunya’s leadership, appears to be primed to ensure that conservation in Africa is led and owned by Africans, while at the same time, preserving the continent’s valuable wildlife for the benefit of local communities, and without sacrificing economic development. It is a serious long-term view in contrast to the short-term gains now desired by Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa who are devastating their ample wildlife resources with trophy hunting, trade in life animals, ivory and animal parts.